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Sep 24 2012

The inscrutable undecided voter

It is rather depressing, though perhaps unavoidable, that modern election campaigns spend almost all their money and energy trying to persuade that tiny group known as the ‘undecided voter’ in the so-called swing states.

Who are these people? Michelle Cottle writes:

[A]t this stage of the race, the vast majority of people still waffling aren’t so much “independent” or “thoughtful” or centrist so much as they are utterly clueless.

Ask the political scientists, pollsters, and other professional analyzers of the electorate who parse these sorts of things. They will tell you—as they have told me repeatedly over the years—that undecideds or swing voters or whatever you want to call them tend to be low-information folks who cast their ballots based on whichever candidate gives them the last-minute warm-and-fuzzies. (Did you see that guy’s smile in the last debate? Sign me up!) Way back during the 2000 Bush-Gore smackdown, I dug around in the data, interviewed undecideds, and called up a passel of experts. My findings were perhaps best (and certainly most entertainingly) summed up by Michael Haselswerdt, then the head of Canisius College’s political science department, who told me: “When it comes to politics, undecided voters don’t know anything. And they’re not going to pay attention long enough to learn anything.”

Another enduring and annoying characteristic of undecideds: many of them aren’t really undecided at all. (The Times put the number of self-styled independents who reliably vote for one party or the other at around half.) Why would people pretend to be something they’re not? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because political types blather on and on about how “thoughtful” it makes them.

Saturday Night Live interviewed some of these undecided voters to see what information they were still seeking.

Homer Simpson may be a perfect example of the undecided voter.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل)

    naw dude, homer is way more well-informed than the average voter…

  2. 2
    smrnda

    I can’t find it anywhere in my history, but I thought there was a study that determined that the vast majority of US voters were too badly informed (and too unconcerned with being informed) for the nation to have a truly functioning democracy?

    But the take on ‘undecided’ voters – if you’re still undecided after months where you can’t avoid hearing about the candidates points of view if you turn on a TV, look at a newspaper or overhear a conversation you obviously just aren’t paying attention. By now, the candidates have said enough on enough issues that anyone with any concern for any issue would have been able to make a call as to ‘who is more on my side.’ Undecided at this point would be more or less just indifferent, but capable of getting motivated enough to get out the door and cast a ballot by an act of brilliant last-minute marketing and branding.

    This is a major problem – politicians are going after the votes of people who don’t think to begin with. An added side effect is that candidates who don’t think can have mass appeal since know-nothing voters want to vote for someone they feel is just like them.

  3. 3
    Brad

    I thought the electoral college was a/the solution to this problem?

  4. 4
    impaire

    “Another enduring and annoying characteristic of undecideds: many of them aren’t really undecided at all. (The Times put the number of self-styled independents who reliably vote for one party or the other at around half.) Why would people pretend to be something they’re not? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because political types blather on and on about how “thoughtful” it makes them.”

    Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps this last point stems from a staggering confusion of “independent” and “undecided”? Perhaps half of Independents reliably identify more with Party A than with Party B, but they still do not love party A enough to identify as a Party-A-trist? Perhaps they do not have a political religion? Perhaps… Well, wait. Am I thinking some part of the electorate might be “thoughtful” inside of automatically despising them? How foolish!

  5. 5
    Removal Company

    This is a major problem – politicians are going after the votes of people who don’t think to begin with. An added side effect is that candidates who don’t think can have mass appeal since know-nothing voters want to vote for someone they feel is just like them.

  6. 6
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    “Where is my power cord?”

  7. 7
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    Honestly, if anyone isn’t sure who they’re voting for at this point they’re either a fucking idiot or have some really weird political views.

  8. 8
    busterggi

    On the kitchen table.

    Thank you for participating in our most cherished freedom.

  9. 9
    machintelligence

    The problem is that the candidates cannot afford to turn off the tap on the attack ads because these undecided dolts tend to believe whatever they heard most recently.

  10. 10
    doneck

    How many of the “undecideds” are actually lying? That’s what I would do – and have done.

  11. 11
    Corvus illustris

    But the take on ‘undecided’ voters – if you’re still undecided after months where you can’t avoid hearing about the candidates points of view if you turn on a TV, look at a newspaper or overhear a conversation you obviously just aren’t paying attention.

    The tacit assumption is that the subjects are “undecided” in the presidential race. When these studies ask subjects whether they’re undecided, is this assumption made clear? I live in a newly-redistricted area–geographically enormous but thinly populated–whose current rep is a teabagger, but whose previous rep (of many years) was an anti-choice Dem. Finding out where the (new) Dem challenger stands, with anything more than a sound bite, is nontrivial; he lives 5 hours away. After that, there are state and local contests in which there’s even less information, and about which indecision is natural. I see a problem with noise generation in sampling.

  12. 12
    Corvus illustris

    Surely you jest. “18 c. kludge screwing up the 21st c.” would be more like it.

  13. 13
    Corvus illustris

    Bravo/a!

  1. 14
    ARE YOU AN UNDECIDED VOTER…?* | Have Coffee Will Write

    [...] Via Mano Singham: [...]

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